With the UN in session, New York once again finds itself at the center of the global universe. And as foreign as our international visitors may seem, NY1's Roma Torre has found a connection that brings the struggles of women in Africa very close to home.
The Waldorf Astoria hotel on Park Avenue and a health clinic for women in Africa: Worlds away it seems, but these addresses have much in common. At a clinic in Africa, women are being treated for fistula, an often fatal condition associated with difficult childbirth.
Generations ago, fistula plagued thousands of women in New York City. The city's fistula hospital once stood on the site of the Waldorf. In the U.S., prenatal care has pretty much eradicated problems associated with fistula, but in Africa some two million women are afflicted; and without access to medical treatment, these young women suffer a living hell.
The mothers as young as 12 often lose their babies but that's just the start of their problems. Besides life-threatening infections, the fistula, basically a hole in the birth canal, renders them incontinent.
"They're then rejected by their family, by their husband, by the people in the village. They're then social outcasts. And normally we find them in little hut in the edge of village. They can die in different ways and often they're suicidal because they can see no way forward," said Freedom from Fistula Foundation Founder Ann Gloag.
Gloag, a former nurse and businesswoman from Scotland, opened her heart and pocketbook to these women. As the co-founder of Stagecoach Bus Group and Gray Line New York, she pours millions of dollars into her Freedom from Fistula Foundation, establishing clinics throughout Africa; and now there's a New York office endorsed by such dignitaries as the presidents of Malawi and Liberia.
"I try to be a voice for these women. And I believe that there will be women in New York that would want to share this and help women in the third world," Gloag said.
And more than a voice, these lucky women walk out of Ann's clinics with a new life.
"I forgot everything once I got my treatment. It's like I'm born again," said one clinic patient.
New York's fistula hospital closed its doors for good in 1895. With help from New Yorkers, Ann Gloag dreams of the day Africa's fistula clinics will end up historical footnotes as well.
"If you could see these women's faces, it's just one of the most worthwhile things you can ever do," Gloag said.